After reading this passage one might define ordinary as what life looked like before Jesus showed up. Or you might conclude that Jesus, as the first born of a new race, was being introducing to us as the new “ordinary.” Here is how people responded to the new version of ordinary: “They were all seized with astonishment and began glorifying God; and they were filled with fear, saying, ‘We have seen remarkable things today.’”
In the previous chapter, we see the likely origin of all the excitement. Jesus had stood up in the congregation and said:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are downtrodden,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.
You have to admit, the action in this passage is more than most of us are accustomed to. Unless we are dispensationalists, our contrasting experience begs for explanation. As I surveyed the passage, I looked for things that stood out as unique and noteworthy—possible reasons for our contrasting experience with Jesus.
1) None of these awe-inspiring events took place in a synagogue.
2) At Jesus’ bidding, a business owner (a mere layman) complied and experienced a radical and unexpected return on his investment, so much so it caused him to acknowledge his own sinfulness—which Jesus proceeded to ignore.
3) There were changed vocations (kind of). His followers would still be fisherman, but going for a different catch.
4) We find Jesus favorably disposed to heal. He was willing. It was now the favorable season for this.
5) The abundant outflow of Life, expressed in a) His teaching and b) the miraculous, were the only church growth strategies in play.
6) A structure (a roof) was dismantled to get to Jesus. Hmm.
7) He heals as easy as He forgives.
If you had a troop of born-again believers who were unencumbered with any of our well-worn templates for doing church, they would be left with miracle-laden passages such as ours as their reference point for ordinary. So, one explanation for the dynamic then and our muted now is that our version of ordinary has been bastardized.
We are like frogs in the kettle that are being slowly and incrementally desensitized to their circumstances, having lost track of the temperature somewhere a ways back. There is a built-in danger to the status quo because it assumes the water temperature of our existing paradigms is safe. This is why so many of us live in this season, so contentedly un-astonished with the unremarkable.
In our passage, two groups are converging upon Jesus: 1) the poor, downtrodden captives and 2) the scribes and teachers who were reasoning incorrectly in their hearts. (Major problem! These were the characters controlling the thermostat!) But there was a Kingdom representative present who happened to be the first-born of a new race of men. The mission of his new tribe would be to redefine and exemplify the new ordinary. It says, “The power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing.” In the previous verse we learned that “He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness to pray.”
I speculate another explanation for the power differential is the shortage of those who slip away—those who continually respond to Jesus’ invitation to come to Him, who in their coming and staying in His presence, learn to enjoy the intimacy between themselves and the Father. I suspect learning to abide in Christ in this way enabled them to maintain the focus on this favorable season of the Lord in which the ordinary can be transformed into the extra-ordinary.
For our mental equilibrium, it is admittedly easier to adopt the dispensational idea that this is now and that was then and everything, in its predestined condition, is as it has been ordained. This is one of the paradoxes that thinking Christians face. It is mentally taxing to ponder the truth that God is sovereign, that things are on track, and simultaneously are not yet all they can and will be. There is an apparent contradiction between these two propositions. Left to pure reasoning, we are driven toward one or the other of these options, tempted to discard one or other of the positions in order to relieve our strain. Living with paradox is troublesome. God knows our dilemma:
“But Jesus, aware of their reasoning, answered and said to them, ‘Why are you reasoning in your hearts?’” Which He might easily have said like this: “Why are you limiting Me to Your human reasoning, allowing apparent contradictions to push you toward the black or the white?”
Has it ever dawned on us how obscenely arrogant it is for us to assume that God is confined by our definitions of ordinary—ideas about God we have derived in our frog-like human reasoning?
I believe we are deficient in the remarkable because we have done much “reasoning in our hearts.” We have been frogging about in relation to the invalid reference points of our own experience, which have unfortunately become our ordinary. Using our versions of ordinary is like recalibrating our thermometers, adjusting 98.6 degrees to 198.6. The outcome is predictable and tragic.
This line of thinking has provoked certain prayers I have prayed, such as: “Search me Oh God and know my heart and see if there be any hurtful (false-benchmark) way in me and lead me in the everlasting way (true-benchmarks).” This line of thinking has provoked my understanding of certain verses, like: “And do not be conformed to this world (heeding false bench marks) but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (heeding true benchmarks), that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good acceptable and perfect.” How could “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” if we have adopted reference points that discount that which is good acceptable and perfect.
The roof of my understanding is being removed and it is not at all comfortable. I have experienced intellectual and emotional loss of equilibrium. I have experienced tensions between my brothers and sisters in Christ as our benchmarks are being reordered and redefined. I trust the fruit will more than justify the expense.
Lord, lead us into Your life. Awaken our hunger and our thirst for kingdom values. May Truth prevail over every lie and half-truth, which have become the sacred markers of our current paradigm. Deliver us from evil that we may be the light of the world—accurate reference points in a darkened world. Amen.
Note: One way to break the status quo is to acquaint ourselves with those who have jumped out of the kettle. I think of Puddleglum, the Marshewiggle who sticks his foot in the fire just to break the witch’s evil enchantment, which had become his ordinary.
(Check out The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis.) Lewis uses the timeless vehicle of fantasy to convey kingdom reality. We also have contemporary examples. Here are just a few reads that shine the spotlight on a whole new normal: Love Does by Bob Goff and Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker. I will have more to say about these two tomorrow as we look at Hebrews 10:19-25 with a focus on verse 24: “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.”